Scepticism on digital land system halting transactions

President Uhuru Kenyatta

President Uhuru Kenyatta tours the National Geospatial Data Centre in Nairobi during the launch of the National Land Information Management System (NLIMS) on April 27, 2021. Also present were  Cabinet Secretaries Eugene Wamalwa, Simon Chelugui, Dr Monica Juma, Joseph Mucheru, Prof George Magoha, Nicholas Muraguri and Faridah Karoney.

Photo credit: File | PSCU

What you need to know:

  • New system meant that all land transactions, including buying, selling and collaterals for loans would eventually move online.
  • Less than 10 per cent of the 40,000 properties guaranteed as ready to be uploaded on system have moved there.

On April 27 last year, President Uhuru Kenyatta launched the National Land Information Management System (NLIMS), a digital platform to manage Kenya’s land data and cure grabbing and corruption in the sector.

Christened Ardhisasa, the new system meant that all land transactions, including buying, selling and collaterals for loans would eventually move online, where data on every Kenyan owning land and related properties would be kept. Over the past year, the Ministry of Lands has been piloting the system in Nairobi.

The ministry insists the change is a bitter pill Kenyans must take to clear the rot that has built up at Ardhi House for decades, fuelling land grabbing and corruption by cartels who took advantage of a weak, archaic system. Ardhisasa has, however, come with both benefits and challenges.

In Nairobi, all land-related transactions were moved online, stopping physical transactions, but Kenyans are still wary. Less than 10 per cent of the 40,000 properties currently guaranteed as ready to be uploaded live on the system have moved there, a key requirement to transact in any land parcel in the city. 

“The data that we have validated and cleaned is not just going live, we are asking the property owners themselves to come in and seek verification of the property to allow it to go live,” said Mr Machua Kahochio, an official in the ministry’s land registration department.

“So if you are a property owner in Nairobi and you have not registered an account and added your property to be listed under the account, if you go to the platform you still can’t access it.”

Different professionals and the ministry note that the public’s unresponsiveness could be halting many transactions in the economy, with some indicating that the platform is too complex for many users and that Kenyans are still wary of the safety of their land information.

“The requirement that owners have to register and upload land documents to transact on their properties has slowed down the process. Titles that are active and fully transactional on the system are less than 2,000 which has hindered our work as people dealing in land in Nairobi,” said Mr Abraham Samoei, who heads the Institution of Surveyors of Kenya.

Mr Samoei noted that, while the ministry insisted that all land transactions in Nairobi be done digitally, there was a lack of motivation among landowners to register in the system and prepare their properties for transactions.

The ministry admits this is a challenge it is battling, attributing it to lack of knowledge on how it operates and an expectation that the government will abandon the project and revert to the old system.

Land transactions

“One year on, it’s been slow, it’s been challenging but our customers now acknowledge the fact that there is no going back. We’ve had issues with our professionals but we discussed their challenges and we corrected [them]. They still have concerns with speed and how long it’s taking for the platform to stabilise,” Lands Cabinet Secretary Farida Karoney said.

Since her appointment to the ministry in 2018, Ms Karoney has shaped the digitisation as her legacy project, after many ministers before her failed to cure the rot at Ardhi House.

“The people who have added their properties on the platform, making them able to be transacted on, are less than 10 per cent of the 40,000 parcels currently cleaned. A lot of Kenyans own land but many of them are not transacting on the land. Others don’t know that for their properties to transact on the platform they need to register on the platform and add their properties,” she added.

Data from the ministry shows that, between April 2021 and April 2022, a total 510,945 Kenyans visited the platform and 46,746 users registered, including professionals such as advocates, surveyors and bankers who deal with land transactions daily. 

A total of 86 charges, 34 transfers, 26 sale of plans transactions and 54,804 land rent payments have been completed through Ardhisasa over the past year, the data shows.

“One area which we haven’t done very well is training, especially for public users. We have very particular requirements, especially the type of data that we require,” said Mr Patrice Lumumba, a physical planner at the ministry.

The system’s slow pace caused a blockage in bank transactions last year with people seeking loans using title deeds as collateral, blocking billions of shillings in credit. But the Kenya Bankers Association (KBA) told the Nation that banks and the ministry have since established a way to process the transactions.

“Individual banks have established working relationships with officials at the Ministry of Lands to solve issues that come up on a case by case basis and so we could say we are progressing well,” said KBA chief executive Habil Olaka.

Hit by corruption that has for many years precipitated land grabbing and theft, the ministry also says it is making various structural reforms alongside the digitisation, including shifting its services from Ardhi House to the National Geospatial Data Centre (NGDC), where the Ardhisasa platform is hosted.

“In the fullness of time, all the digital services will be housed in this building [NGDC] because we want the staff to transition not just mentally but also physically. We leave our files in Ardhi House, we come here and use computers,” Ms Karoney said. The CS, however, noted that not all the staff at the ministry have supported the change, stating that “in a change process, you cannot convert everybody, there will be those officers who are still reluctant but those are few. In the fullness of time, they will disappear”.

Some of the platform’s successes, Ms Karoney said, are facilitating land rent payment by 54,000 Kenyans and ridding Ardhi House of land cartels who thronged the headquarters extorting Kenyans who were desperate for services and engineering land grabbing.

“Ardhisasa itself is a platform for Nairobi, but for land rent we are collecting rent for the whole country. So far, 54,000 Kenyans have paid rent through the platform but there is potential for many more because there are many properties that attract rent,” she said.


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